By Tara Bitzan, Executive Director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce
The Alexandria, Douglas County Lakes Area is pretty amazing. In fact, many believe it’s the “ultimate destination to live, work, play and prosper.” We have natural beauty, vast natural resources and recreational opportunities, quality healthcare and educational opportunities, strong hospitality, manufacturing and agricultural industries, impressive retail and arts offerings and so much more!
More importantly, the people here are pretty amazing. Throughout the community you can witness countless examples of neighbors helping neighbors, businesses supporting nonprofits, churches and schools, and people regularly coming together for the greater good of the community.
When tragedy strikes, the community rallies. When someone is in need, people are there offering a helping hand. When we achieve success, we celebrate! The fact that Minnesota Monthly recently selected Alexandria as Best Minnesota Town is evidence that we are pretty great! But we need to be honest with ourselves and admit that we have some flaws. One of the more significant being how we “react” in the form of mean-spirited words that get carelessly thrown around when there is debate of any kind within the community.
Something happens. We hear about it through media reports or word of mouth. Immediately, we react. Those fast reactions too often include aggressive, hurtful or hateful social media posts, the spreading of incorrect information to others, and worst of all, personal attacks.
Our community is full of passionate people, and that is why we are so successful! Passion builds momentum, gains followers and is a catalyst for making things happen. But there is a fine line between passion and aggression. Much too often that line is crossed, and that is a detriment to our entire community. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about city street projects, county ditches, school referendums or governmental tax levies, a local drug bust, building projects, snow covered sidewalks, plans or lack of plans for empty retail space, school bus schedules, or a security breech at a local business. Everyone has an opinion on the brief piece of information they come across, and they react before they educate themselves on the topic.
The news is released and it’s like a shotgun start at a race – people are immediately posting their opinions on social media, calling their friends to complain, sharing their frustrations on the street. Often there is an uproar for a few days, or maybe a few weeks or a few months, and then it all dies down and life goes on. Unfortunately, there is damage left in the aftermath, most often in the form of diminished trust, destroyed relationships, and good old-fashioned hurt feelings. It’s unclear why local residents have such short fuses, and it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we recognize that this is a problem, and that we focus on trying to make it better.
Here are some easy tips to get started. Next time you hear some news that raises your dander, bite your lip and do some research. Start by reading the entire media report instead of just the headline and opening paragraphs. If you still have questions or concerns, call up the entity involved. Our local government officials, school officials, business and organizational leaders, board members, etc. would be happy to answer questions if you are civil when asking them. In fact, most of them would prefer you call to ask questions versus spreading misinformation. But they don’t deserve to be verbally attacked, called names, criticized on social media, etc.
With all of the passionate people who care about this community, it’s a pretty safe assumption that no major decision is made without an extensive amount of study, research, input and consideration. And when the decision is made, it’s because they believe it to be the best possible one. So we owe it to them to at least listen, learn and then, if we still disagree, share our thoughts in a kind, respectful manner. There’s a great community resolution for 2020.